US life expectancy is at a 25-year low, according to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2021, the average life expectancy at birth dropped 0.9 years from 77.0 in 2020 to 76.1. The decrease in life expectancy is primarily due to excess deaths caused by COVID-19.
The CDC’s life expectancy figure is a projection of the average age of death for people born today based on current death rates and health conditions. The life expectancy decrease indicates that US health is decreasing.
The decrease in life expectancy is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 virus was the third leading cause of death in 2021, following heart disease and cancer, for the second year in a row. In 2021, COVID-19 was associated with approximately 460,000 deaths in the US, according to provisional mortality data from the CDC. Because COVID-19 can be misclassified as pneumonia or influenza deaths, the CDC says the coronavirus death toll is likely higher.
More people dying in a given year leads to lower life expectancies for those born the same year. The age-adjusted death rate increased by 0.7% between 2020 and 2021, according to the CDC. Overall death rates in 2021 were the highest among American Indian or Alaskan Native and Black populations, explaining the drop in life expectancy for those groups.
The CDC calculates life expectancy figures for racial and ethnic groups. COVID-19 impacted the life expectancy of American Indian or Alaskan Native and white Americans more than Black and Hispanic Americans. Life expectancy for the American Indian or Alaskan Native population decreased by 2.8%, dropping from 67.1 years to 65.2 years between 2020 and 2021.
Life expectancy decreased by 1.3% for white people, falling from 77.4 years to 76.4 years. Black Americans had a life expectancy drop of 1%, falling from 71.5 years to 70.8 years.
Read more about the health of Americans at the State of the Union in Numbers.
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